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Coney Island USA Building

New lights illuminating Coney Island USA Building, which will be designated a landmark today. Photo © Fred Kahl

Let’s get this puzzler out of the way first: Why are Joe Sitt and Thor Equities mentioned in a press release heralding today’s landmark designation of Coney Island USA’s building?

Repair of the exterior architectural lighting was funded through the generosity of our individual and corporate supporters, including Melissa Baldock, Steve Bernstein and Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities.

Is it a typo? Or has Sitt seen the light, however briefly, and contributed to the renovation of an historic building in Coney Island?

It’s odd to see Sitt’s name alongside a noted preservationist and a CIUSA board member. It’s incongruous considering Sitt’s darkening of the amusement area and demolition of three buildings that he owns, including two that were nominated for landmark designation. His contribution would be more noble if his rampant destruction weren’t in evidence all around Coney Island. And if you’re wondering how much Sitt contributed to the renovations, so are we.

Update…Dick Zigun, director of Coney Island USA writes: “Yes it is true he gave us money a year and a half ago but we just finished the project… not that much money $16,000… I asked him for funding it was not his idea… I ask everyone for money.” Zigun added that the total cost of the renovation was $70,000. As far as we know, this is the first time Joe Sitt and Thor Equities have contributed to the restoration of historic Coney Island. Way to go, Joe!

As for the topic of the press release, we’re thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission will at long last designate the arts organization’s 1917 Child’s Restaurant Building a New York City landmark. It’s cause for celebration in Coney Island, especially amid the ongoing demolitions and evictions.

According to the designation report, “Although the Spanish (or the variant Mediterranean) Revival style was more often found on buildings in warmer climates, such as in Florida or the Caribbean, the designer of this structure (John Corley Westervelt) was hoping to suggest this same kind of vacation-oriented environment for a building in the heart of New York’s most popular resort area.”

Coney Island USA deserves credit for nominating 6 historic buildings for designation back in 2005. As we noted when the Shore Theater was designated in December, the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission delayed consideration of the buildings until February 2010, after Coney Island had been rezoned. Of the nominated buildings, only two–the Childs Restaurant (owned by CIUSA) and the Shore Theater (owned by Horace Bullard) were considered worthy of landmark designation. The Thor Equities-owned Bank of Coney Island and Shore Hotel were demolished and the Henderson Building demolition is underway. The doomed buildings were on parcels rezoned for high rise hotels.

Coney Island USA purchased the historic building in 2007 with funding from the City. When the Childs Building was first illuminated in mid-November, Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun said it was part of a major upgrade to the exterior of the building. “The Surf Avenue facade will be illuminated every evening, 365 days a year; the West 12th Street lights will be on when we are open for business any evening,” noted Zigun.

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